Across from the large section of Phillipe Auguste’s wall on the right bank, near where the Hotel St. Pol, Charles V’s final royal residence in Paris stood, rests a charming little enclave of antique and art shoppes called the Village St. Paul.
I first happened on these shops during the day, when each connected courtyard was full of antique plates, vintage clothes, and funky home furnishings. The sight was enchanting--piles of silver napkin rings, jet-beaded dresses, and antique fans. I spent time but no money (I bought too many books to buy trinkets as well).
Though there are a number of shops open during the day, I found this little market much less overwhelming than Marches aux Puces. It’s also a bit more focused and neighborly. It’s a neighborhood market rather than a tourist trap, and the community feel of the park across the street where boys kick soccer balls against the 800-year-old wall enhances the local appeal. Lovely restaurants sit next to wine merchants. The people seemed to know each other, and unlike most other places in Paris, no one spoke English back to me when I asked questions.
Later in the week, I came back to the Village St. Paul in the evening when the shops had closed and was better able to explore the remnants of medieval construction and the space that was said to contain what was once the famed gardens of Charles the Wise.
I was able to stroll from courtyard to courtyard, appreciating the construction and the remnants of wood and stone that still supported the three and four story houses that lined the courtyards.
In the middle ages, during Charles V's reign, the gardens that were said to be located here housed a cherry orchard, lions in cages, and vast kitchen and herb gardens. Several sources also claim that Charles V's head gardener was a woman. I use these facts (or rumors ;-) to create tension in the first Christine mystery Bed of Bones.
Walking here, where the beams for the buildings were harvested from forests that stood eight-hundred years ago and were dragged back by horses into the city and where the stones were likely mined from underneath the city itself, I felt again the immense history of Paris. Now the forests are gone. Where the trees grew is only a short car ride away. The old quarries where stones were pulled up through holes in the ground have been blocked off, cellar openings nailed or locked shut (though an entire cottage industry has grown up in Paris to help tourists explore these illegal underground ruins). But the old walls and timbers remain and the sense of community remains as well here in Village St. Paul.